The Imperial beard family is something of a complexity in men’s facial hair. Technically speaking, it carries many hallmarks of a moustache in that hair growth is absent on the chin. Yet, the surface area of growth is in greater correlation with a beard. Furthermore, General Ambrose Burnside’s imperial beard style coined the term “Burnsides”, of which today’s Sideburns are a 19th Century corruption.
The World Beard Championship defines the Imperial or “Kaiser” style as part of the Partial Beard group. It notes that there must be at least 1.6 inches (4 cm) of clean shaven space on the chin. However, it indicates that you cannot connect facial and head hair.
“Freestyle and Sideburns” is the alternative Partial Beard category. This considers that only an area at least 1.6 inches (4cm) on the chin must be clean shaved. Nevertheless, it notes also that part of the cheeks must also be left bare. This second category has also been somewhat controversial among competitors since its introduction in 2003.
Frustratingly, the Imperial beard as recognised by the layman falls into neither category entirely. Despite it being one of the oldest and most recognisable beard families, it lacks a clear definition.
Of course, official guidelines aren’t an absolute necessity beyond competing beard enthusiasts but they help maintain an element of standardisation.
For streamlined classification, facial hair that start with Sideburns and join as a moustache have been grouped together as Imperial beards. In short, anything that doesn’t feature a Goatee can be regarded as one. Alternatively, they can also be a wide moustache that features more hair on the cheeks than above the lip.
As the name suggests, Imperial beards are strongly reminiscent of 19th Century military and political leaders. As previously mentioned, American Civil War General Ambrose Burnside is something of a forefather to the beard family. Inefficient leadership at the Battle of Antietam and crushing defeat at the Battle of Fredericksberg checkered his military service. However, he became immortalised for his glorious facial hair, which in 1866 were coined “Burnside Whiskers” by the press.
Burnside catalysed a new tonsorial fashion craze. In the final quarter of the 19th Century, Austrian emperor, Franz Josef, was one of the discerning statesmen who would sport Side Whiskers. Therefore, they are beards that can seem somewhat nostalgic and regal, which may complement or contrast a modern gentleman’s style.
Note that according to the World Beard and Moustache Championships, the Imperial beard and Imperial moustache families are separate. The Imperial moustache is an English style moustache that’s small and bushy with the tips curled upwards.
Friendly Mutton Chops
The most common variety of the Imperial beard family are the Friendly Mutton Chops. Unlike regular Mutton Chops from the Sideburn family, they are termed as “friendly” as they meet through a moustache. However, like regular Mutton Chops, they feature thick growth down the jawline. Friendly Mutton Chops recollect old portraits of 19th Century statesmen and royalty such as Tsar Alexander II of Russia.
However, they aren’t absent from the modern man. The late Lemmy Kilmister, the frontman of heavy metal pioneers, Motörhead, sported a fetching pair to hide his facial warts. Furthermore, Hugh Jackman would oscillate between Friendly and regular Mutton Chops when interpreting the tenacious Wolverine in the X-Men franchise.
Grooming Friendly Mutton Chops
- Using a razor, reduce the height of the cheek lines but leave very wide Sideburns.
- A straight razor will provide the best results with its wide and visible blade length. It is best to remove hair in steps on each side to avoid taking off too much beard.
- Once at the desired height, use a razor blade or trimmer to define sloping contours from the Sideburns to the cheek lines.
- Remove any growth around the Adam’s apple and neck. Use the jawline’s bone as a guide.
- Shave hair on the chin and soul patch area. The spacing can be as narrow as the width of a razor blade, which is 1.6 inches (4 cm).
- Be careful not to shave too wide and remove growth beyond the corners of the mouth.
- Once defined, shave any remaining stray hairs.
- Neaten the moustache and trim the overall length.
Sculpting Friendly Mutton Chops is a process similar to a Boxed Beard whilst being the opposite of a Circle Beard. They feature a medium-height cheek line and stop on the jawline’s bone. Friendly Mutton Chops can be groomed, neat and short with sharp contours.
Alternatively, they can be long, rugged and unkempt. Either style are best achieved after around four weeks of hair growth, which facilitates trimming and contouring. Furthermore, Friendly Mutton Chops can be forgiving to irregular shaving as chin stubble adds texture and channels your inner Wolverine.
À La Souvarov Imperial Beard
The À La Souvarov earns its name from 18th Century Russian General Aleksandr Suvorov. However, a thorough Google search will only retrieve portraits of a clean-shaven general, which begs the question as to how the beard earned its name.
The À La Souvarov walks the fine line between moustache and beard. Some may even argue that it doesn’t belong here. However, its striking resemblance to the Friendly Mutton Chops indicate that they are of the same family.
Unlike its variants, the À La Souvarov features thin Sideburns that slope and extend high across the cheeks into a moustache. Although the Sideburns may fall down to the jawline, they may not follow it but rise early to curve earlier towards the moustache.
Of all the Imperial beard styles, they are the hardest to maintain as trimming requires minute precision to ensure symmetry. Moreover, they require regular shaving as this neat style can quickly appear unkempt.
Hulihee Imperial Beard
The Hulihee is the Imperial family’s closest relation to the original Burnside or Franz Josef styles. Unlike its relatives, its name derives from the Hawaiian palace of the same name rather than a 19th Century aristocrat. It features long, wavy, voluminous and untamed “fat chops”.
An extravagant and flamboyant beard, the Hulihee is not for the shy or uninitiated. It can be achieved by growing out Friendly Mutton Chops or removing the chin and neckline from a Full Beard. The Hulihee beard tends to feature a higher cheek line than the Friendly Mutton Chops that follows the natural hairline.
Although the hair is often brushed down on a Hulihee, the wearer can decided to style it by upturning or brushing it out. Similarly, the discerning gentleman can follow the fashion of his forefathers and trim it into a rounded Burnside beard.
Will an Imperial Beard Suit My Face Shape?
Imperial beards are a peculiar and exceptional beard style that break away from the norm. Sporting them successfully is already challenging and gentlemen may consider their overall ensemble before their face shape. Being something of a distinguished style, the beard family is more suited to older gentlemen.
Nevertheless, face shapes are an important factor to consider as its particular features can drastically alter your face’s proportions.
Oblong Face Shapes
Oblong shaped faces can benefit the most from an Imperial beard.
The width created by the chops can be exploited in order to widen their features. This will help make the face appear squarer and reduce height.
Square Face Shapes
Being a versatile shape, Square faces can excel in growing voluminous chops without running too many risks. Their strong features also denote confidence, which helps in pulling off what has become a rare style. Furthermore, the pronounced jaw of a square face shape is able to retain balance with heavyset chops.
Triangle Face Shapes
Like their Square-faced cousins, Triangle shapes feature extremely strong jawlines that allow them to carry the weight of a healthy pair of chops. In framing their broad chins, it will focus attention here without drastically reducing its size.
Diamond Face Shapes
Similarly, Diamond face shapes have hollow cheeks and strong chins.
Therefore, the chops could be used to fill out the space under their cheekbones to render the face squarer.
Incompatable Face Shape Matches
They could box off the sides to make it squarer along the jawline as well as widen the shaved area under the chin. Nevertheless, they may struggle to make the style work for them rather it being a constant struggle to trim.